The last time Villanova and Penn saw each other on a basketball court was 51 weeks ago at the Palestra, where the Quakers broke the Wildcats’ 25-game Big 5 winning streak by limiting three-point shots.
So, when the teams matched up Wednesday night at Finneran Pavilion, the No. 23 Wildcats decided not to emphasize the three-ball as much and go into the paint for much of their scoring. With Saddiq Bey doing most of his work inside en route to a career-high 27 points, the shift in strategy worked and gave ‘Nova an 80-69 victory.
The Wildcats (6-2, 2-0 Big 5) attempted only 10 three-point shots – their lowest total last year was 14 – and made four. But 48 points in the paint, including drives late in the game by freshman guard Justin Moore that gave the Cats some breathing room, helped the offense.
The Quakers (5-4, 1-1) came back from 11 points down in the early stages of the second half to get to within two. In fact, the margin fluctuated between two and four points for some six minutes, before Villanova pulled away with three baskets by Moore and six free throws in the final 1 minute, 17 seconds by Collin Gillespie.
The 6-foot-8 Bey, whose previous career high was 22, was strong from beginning to end, driving to the hoop or making subtle moves in the lane, with seven of his 10 baskets in the paint. For Penn, 6-8 forward A.J. Brodeur scored 18 points on 8-of-13 shooting and 6 assists in a terrific matchup with freshman Jeremiah Robinson-Earl. Brodeur also pulled down 14 rebounds.
Moore finished with 17 points, and Robinson-Earl had 13 points, 12 rebounds, 3 assists, and 3 steals. Gillespie, who played only 23 minutes because of foul trouble, chipped in with 11 points and 6 assists.
Penn had three other players in double figures -- Jordan Dingle with 18, Devon Goodman with 16, and Ryan Betley with 13.
Both teams shot well -- Villanova 50.8% and Penn 48.3%. The Wildcats scored 19 points off 13 Quakers turnovers, with the visitors managing just 5 points on 11 miscues by the Cats.
“You had to be really mentally tough in that game,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “They are a very experienced, mentally tough team, and they have been for last year and this year. That’s a good win for us, for our young guys to compete mentally with them. And they’re talented and well-coached so it’s a good win for us.”
“That was our plan," Penn coach Steve Donahue said. "I think we’re in the top 10 in the country in limiting threes, and it’s something we do well. They got those twos, and you live with it, but with 3 minutes to go I thought the plan was working, and we kind of ran out of gas on the offensive end. But for the most part, I thought we guarded them as well as you can.”
The duel on the inside between Brodeur and Robinson-Earl was a case of the veteran teaching the youngster, and the youngster will become better for it in the long run. Brodeur, who admitted he’s not as athletic as some physical opponents he has gone against this nonconference season, showed the freshman his full array of pivots, spins, footwork, and fakes with one hand and going up with the other. It was a clinic.
Bey, who has handled the basketball much more than he did during his freshman year last season, is showing more versatility getting into the lane for his own shot. He not only powered to the hoop but showed some finesse with a fake-and-move the other way, like Brodeur.
Wright admitted he made a mistake late in the first half when he inserted Gillespie, who had two fouls, for an offensive possession, and the junior point guard got called for a moving screen, his third personal. Gillespie missed the last 4:24 of the first half and the first 6:36 of the second before going back into the game.